PhD student starts ‘The Food & Family Project’

Published 8:59 am Saturday, January 7, 2023

BATON ROUGE — Growing up in LaPlace, some of Tierra Alexander’s fondest memories involved connecting with her parents over home cooked meals. Now a PhD candidate at Louisiana State University’s School of Social Work, Alexander is offering free cooking classes as an intervention to cultivate stronger relationships among foster, adopted and blended families.

The Food & Family Project begins this month, geared toward families of foster children ages 12 to 18 who have been in the home between one month and one year. Alexander will guide families through a virtual cooking class once a week over a period of six weeks to examine whether preparation and consumption of family meals correlates to a perceived sense of family connectedness among foster youth.

Tierra Alexander of LaPlace is combining her love for cooking and social work with a project that aims to help foster families.

Instruments used to assess results of the bonding time will include the Family Times and Routines Index, the Inventory of Family and Peer Attachment, and interviews conducted before and after the cooking lessons with each member of the family.

Alexander has always had a love for developing her own recipes, making memories, and empowering communities.

“The best research projects really come from personal experiences, and while I was not in foster care, I do have experience with my family connecting over food,” Alexander said. “Especially living in Louisiana, we have cultivated a culture around it. We live to eat versus eat to live, and it’s such a big part of our lives as Louisianans to incorporate food into everything we do. I wanted to be able to provide the experience for someone else to have a great relationship with the people who take care of them.”

In the first year of her PhD program, Alexander took a class on intervention research but found little information connecting food to family bonding. Since 2016, she has studied the importance of food from a social aspect.

“I learned that for many kids in foster care, eating correctly becomes an issue when they feel like they are losing control,” she said. For them, food becomes a mechanism to maintain control over some area of their lives, and kids may develop eating disorders, start sneaking food, eating too much or too little…”

According to Alexander, the Food & Family Project seeks to address gaps in the existing research.

Outside of her studies, Alexander operates Sweet Legacy LLC, a mobile café and catering operation that has been featured at prominent events such as Beignet Fest and the National Fried Chicken Festival. Part of her business proceeds support her research in the field of social work.

For more information about the Food & Family Project, contact Alexander at talex14@lsu.edu